After the killing of George Floyd on May 25 of last year, many Black community leaders across the country organized protests and other events to honor his life and raise awareness about police brutality.
Denise “Niecy” Smith was one of them. The Southampton resident put together a vigil for Mr. Floyd on June 4, feeling compelled to “do something” after watching the video footage of his death. The turnout was “amazing,” she said, with several faith leaders from the area in attendance.
At that point, the holiday of Juneteenth — which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States — was just two weeks away. So Ms. Smith decided to ride the momentum of the vigil and create a Juneteenth celebration. The pandemic limited what Ms. Smith was able to put together for the event last year, but it was still a success, and this year, she’s doing it again, with a slate that promises to make it an even bigger celebration.
Agawam Park will host the second annual Juneteenth celebration in Southampton Village on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. The holiday commemorates the day, in 1865, when federal troops came to Galveston, Texas, on June 19 to ensure that any remaining enslaved people were freed. It happened more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.
Juneteenth was recognized and celebrated in Black communities across the country for generations, but it was not until recently that it started garnering nationwide attention, with calls to make it a federal holiday. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared Juneteenth an official public holiday in New York last year, and President Biden was expected to do the same after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution to make Juneteenth a federal holiday earlier this week.
On the heels of that good news, with most pandemic restrictions lifted, and with a favorable weather forecast, Saturday’s celebration should be a good one. Ms. Smith added live entertainment to this year’s event, with performances by the Edge School of Arts out of Queens, and One Purpose Gospel Group, which will perform a gospel song written by Southampton High School graduate Tramar Pettaway.
There will also be a special ceremony where several Black Vietnam War veterans will be honored. That includes Richard Frank Hite, Bobby Saunders, Odell Ferebee, Richard “Juni” Wingfield, Sam Seymore and Grant Gee. That portion of the day will also include a special guest.
Several guest speakers will be on hand to address the crowd. Pastor Leslie Duroseau, who served as the pastor at Southampton Methodist Church for 10 years, and moved on to a new church last summer, will be on hand, and Andrina Wekontash Smith — Ms. Smith’s daughter — who is a writer, storyteller and activist, will also address the crowd. Others speaking or giving remarks include the Reverend Michael Smith of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Shinnecock Council of Trustees Chairman Bryan Polite, Denise Merchant, the Reverend Donald Butler, the Reverend Sarah Bigwood, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, and Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren.
A pair of Southampton locals will serve as emcees for the event. Cameron Highsmith, who attends Villanova University and is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (one of the Divine 9 Black sororities and fraternities) and Layna Ware, a graduate of Cheyney State University in Pennsylvania, who earned her master’s degree at Adelphi. She is the granddaughter of Lucius Ware, former president of the Long Island chapter of the NAACP. Ms. Ware was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, also in the Divine 9.
There will be several food and clothing vendors on hand as well. There will also be a shuttle bus provided for people who want to be part of the Juneteenth festivities that will also be taking place at the Southampton African American Museum’s grand opening on North Sea Road the same day. Ms. Smith said she’s happy that the day will include several options for people wishing to commemorate the holiday.
“There are two Black events in Southampton on the same day,” she said. “That’s a beautiful thing.”